Romper

I'm Pregnant In Florida & Zika Has Turned My Life Upside Down

Courtesy of Michelle Sarkissian

I remember it like it was yesterday: It was a Monday morning, and I was preparing to leave for a photo lecture at Southeast Center for Photographic Studies in Daytona Beach, Florida, when every few minutes this immense feeling of nausea would hit me. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for a couple of months (after suffering the loss of our first we were finally ready to try again), but it didn’t seem to be working, so I saw the unexpected free time as the perfect opportunity to boost my business. I hit the road for Orlando to shoot for some clients in the area and give a couple of photography lectures at my Alma Mater, University of Central Florida (UCF). I had no idea I was pregnant until that morning, no idea of the road ahead with Zika in Florida, when it dawned on me that maybe that’s why I felt so awful. Convinced, I took pregnancy tests daily, but in the midst of my worsening morning sickness, they all came back negative. Am I dying? I wondered. I rushed to the doctor immediately following my return home to Miami, and after a few blood tests, I had the results: I was pregnant.

I felt so many emotions all at once. Excited, happy, scared, curious, and anxious. I was under the impression that my biggest hurdle throughout my second pregnancy would be getting over my miscarriage and remembering that this pregnancy would be an entirely different experience. That is, until my doctor handed me a thick packet of papers and had an honest talk with me about the very real risk of the Zika virus and its presence in Miami. I’d heard of Zika in the news and understood that it was a virus that causes flu-like symptoms and puts pregnant women at risk to give birth to babies with Microcephaly, eye defects, impaired growth, hearing loss, and other severe fetal brain defects, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Courtesy of Michelle Sarkissian
Zika not only affects my ability to enjoy my pregnancy, it also affects my professional life as well.

I couldn’t help but ask myself, Why is he telling me this? My OB was very serious about his understanding of how it would eventually travel to South Florida, and explained, “This is not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’” The recommendations I’d get from my doctor, following this statement from the Center from Disease Control and Prevention about preventing Zika (CDC), would change the forecast for how I’d be able to spend the entirety of my pregnancy:

Courtesy of Michelle Sarkissian

I’m sure my OB continued to speak and make recommendations for my safety, but it was all so very overwhelming. In a moment when I was thrilled at the news of my pregnancy, I was also simultaneously terrified at the risk Zika posed to my unborn baby and to me. This was supposed be a moment my partner and I celebrated, a goal we’d worked so hard towards, something we’ve been talking about and truly looking forward to since before we even got married, and now, our beautiful little baby would be developed during a time when a dangerous epidemic is expanding across the globe.

Although a smidgen of my work does take place indoors at a client’s office or home, most often my clients come to me for what I’m known best for: outdoor portraits.

For some pregnant women, the fear of living in Florida during pregnancy mostly affects their ability to enjoy leisurely activities and fulfill daily tasks like walking the dog or taking out the trash, but Zika not only affects my ability to enjoy my pregnancy, it also affects my professional life as well.

Courtesy of Michelle Sarkissian

I am a freelance photographer and I run a small portrait photography business. I’ve been based out of South Florida since graduating college in 2013, when I moved here from Orlando. Although a smidgen of my work does take place indoors at a client’s office or home, most often my clients come to me for what I’m known best for: outdoor portraits. We frequent parks and various architecturally interesting locations, including The Coral Gables Library, Lincoln Road Mall, Matheson Hammock Park, and Tree Tops Park.

If anything were to happen to this baby that could have been prevented, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. That fear alone is enough to push me to follow all the rules religiously.

How could I make money from my on-location photography business when I couldn’t be outside or on-location? Towards the beginning of the Zika outbreaks, when they were concentrated outside of the United States, I used all the caution given by my doctor to wear the necessary clothing and repellent. I made sure that my only time spent outdoors was for either work or previous obligations that were deemed safe enough so long as I minimized my time outdoors while fulfilling them. It was a pain in the butt, in all honesty, and often clients and friends alike criticized me for overreacting. It was, to a degree, socially challenging to be so careful, but I just kept reminding myself that if anything were to happen to this baby that could have been prevented, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. That fear alone is enough to push me to follow all the rules religiously.

Courtesy of Michelle Sarkissian
We’re pinching pennies in every way we can, selling everything valuable we can find around the apartment and becoming as creative as we can to maximize our dollar.

Then the day came, the day I feared from the moment I’d learned about Zika. It was all over the news: “10 Cases of Locally Transmitted Zika Reported in Miami-Dade County” and then again, “Now 14 Cases of Locally Transmitted Zika Reported in Florida, Wynwood Area Deemed Unsafe for Pregnant Women,” then more and more until that number continued to climb so rapidly that a website was created to track the Florida reports geographically in real time. My heart sank, because I knew that this was it. I called every client I had a session booked with from now until the end of my pregnancy and had to tell them that I would not be able to do their shoot outside anymore, and that if an indoor option wouldn’t suit their needs we would either have to reschedule for January (when I would be two months postpartum) or cancel entirely.

Monetarily, this poses a huge concern to my growing family. Pregnancy is expensive, and babies even more so. My partner and I had planned that I’d work until I couldn’t anymore so that I could spend the most time with the baby as possible before getting back into my photo work, but this news meant that had to change. And now, we’re pinching pennies in every way we can, selling everything valuable we can find around the apartment and becoming as creative as we can to maximize our dollar. For now, I’m taking advantage of my time inside to brush up on my studio skills, create a new website, and come up with some holiday promotions in the event that everything goes smoothly with my labor and delivery so that I continue portrait work again during the holiday season.  

Courtesy of Michelle Sarkissian

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this whole outbreak has been my emotional well-being. If you’ve ever been pregnant or known a pregnant woman, you know for certain she’s emotionally fragile in a different and much more intense way than ever before. I can’t help but feel as though I’m missing out on a time of freedom during these last months to do the things that I love, like being outdoors with my husband and having picnics at the park together, or laying out at the beach listening to the waves crash. Motherhood is a role I’ve waited a long time for, but it has been complicated to get the pre-baby relaxation in while staying out of harm’s way.

But I will say, that over time, these circumstances have pushed me to grow in a way I didn’t know I could. I’ve spent far more time unplugged in an effort to look for solace and peace within my home environment and myself. Turning my creativity to the only place I can safely be has been a refreshing experience, and catapulted my nesting instincts so much so that our nursery/bedroom hybrid has really started to take shape. I’ve even picked up a few books on breastfeeding and parenting that were recommended to me by my peers. This isn’t at all the pregnancy experience I anticipated, but then again, what part of being a parent is?